Native American Herbs May Slow Parkinson’s Disease

Elderberry flowers slows Parkinson's

Elderberry flower extract slows Parkinson’s progression. Photo by Edsel Little

North American Native Peoples used nature to treat their ailments, including those that compare to Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease as we know it is likely a modern condition caused by chemical toxins.

But many of the neurological symptoms that present in Parkinson’s disease have also occurred in the past with other conditions.

Parkinson’s disease symptoms include tremors, muscle rigidity, poor balance, dizziness, slow movements, shuffling, fatigue, memory issues and others. These can occur due to imbalances related to the availability of key neurotransmitters such as dopamine and acetylcholine.

In other words, neurological conditions have been occurring for centuries. And indigenous peoples utilized herbal medicines to treat these. After centuries of treatment trials and healer mentorship traditions, native peoples found plants able to treat neurological conditions.

The question now is whether these traditional treatments can help Parkinson’s disease patients today.

Today, the only real treatment option for Parkinson’s is dopamine replacement therapy. This can provide some relief of a few motor symptoms. But this therapy will not stop the continuing degeneration of neurons that will eventually be fatal. And it often comes with a flurry of side effects.

The question is whether nature may have a tool in its plant medicine arsenal that will turn around this neurogeneration process. This is not news to regular Heal Naturally readers: We have discussed several natural strategies in previous articles on Parkinson’s. These include Qigong and Tai chi for Parkinson’s, an ancient Asian herbal formula that treats Parkinson’s, an Ayurvedic herb that may slow Parkinson’s and an Ayurvedic spice that helps prevent Parkinson’s progression. We’ve also discussed an algae nutrient that improves Parkinson’s symptoms and the importance of REM sleep in Parkinson’s. Furthermore, we have discussed how gut bacteria is related to Parkinson’s progression.

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We have also written about the likely causes of Parkinson’s. We’ve discussed heavy metals and Parkinson’s, and pesticides and Parkinson’s.

Finding natural medicines with a history of traditional treatment success is key. This is precisely what some Purdue University researchers set out to determine in multiple studies of potential ethnobotanical Parkinson’s solutions.

Lessons from Blackfeet Nation

The Purdue researchers interviewed healers and locals on the Blackfeet Indian reservation located in Western Montana. They asked what plants the healers used when someone reported with any of the symptoms mentioned above.

They proceeded to test those plants that were used in the laboratory. The healers indicated 19 different medicinal plants used to treat some of the symptoms that also present in Parkinson’s.

Out of these 19 medicinal plants, the researchers tested 10 as extracts. In particular, they tested the plants’ ability to stimulate what is called the nuclear factor/E2-related factor 2 – or more simply, Nrf2.

The Nrf2 activation is a natural process that helps prevent the malfunctioning of tiny cell organelles called mitochondria. This essentially makes Nrf2 able to protect the neurons that produce dopamine within the brain’s substantia nigra.

So the researchers tested whether any of the herbal medicines used by the Blackfeet were able to activate the Nrf2 factor in neuron cells.

To test the herb’s ability to protect neurons, the researchers utilized the toxins paraquat and rotenone. These are two modern chemicals that have been linked to Parkinson’s and substantia nigra dopamine-producing neuron damage.

To their surprise, seven of the 10 plant extracts stimulated the Nrf2 activity among brain cells in the presence of these toxins. In particular, three healer-recommended plant extracts stimulated Nrf2 in the presence of rotenone, thereby protecting the brain cells:

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• Garlic cloves (Allium sativum)
• Red clover flowers (Trifolium pretense)
• Serviceberry berries (Amelanchier arborea)

In addition, two of the plant extracts protected the brain cells against paraquat by stimulating Nrf2:

• Garlic cloves (Allium sativum)
• Serviceberry berries (Amelanchier arborea)

In other words, three plant extracts were able to prevent the death of dopamine-producing neurons. This translates to the herbs’ helping prevent the worsening of Parkinson’s symptoms.

The researchers concluded:

“Our findings highlight the potential clinical utility of plants used for medicinal purposes over generations by the Pikuni-Blackfeet people, and they shed light on mechanisms by which the plant extracts could slow neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s disease.”

Lumbee Native Pharmacopeia

The Purdue researchers proceeded to investigate the traditional medicine of the Lumbee nation using the same methods. The interviews of locals and healers of the Lumbee Nation took place in Pembroke, North Carolina.

The researchers discovered the use of no less than 32 different medicinal plants by healers for conditions with symptoms that also occur with Parkinson’s disease.

They proceeded to investigate these using some of the extracts. Again the extracts were tested for their ability to stimulate the Nrf2 process within neuron cells.

Many of the plant extracts improved Nrf2 activity. In particular, an extract made from elderberry flowers (Sambucus caerulea) proved effective.

The researchers found the elderberry extract induced the Nrf2 activity and protected the neurons against damage from the rotenone toxin.

The researchers concluded:

“These results highlight potential therapeutic benefits of botanical extracts used in traditional Lumbee medicine, and they provide insight into mechanisms by which an elderflower extract could suppress neurotoxicity elicited by environmental and genetic Parkinson’s disease-related insults.”

Takeaways from Native American ethnobotanical research

The finding of four herbal medicines that induce Nrf2 among dopamine-producing brain cells is important. Again, these are:

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• Garlic cloves (Allium sativum)
• Red clover flowers (Trifolium pretense)
• Serviceberry berries (Amelanchier arborea)
• Elderberry flowers (Sambucus caerulea)

At least three of these (garlic, red clover and elderberry) are available as commercial extracts. Even so, talk to  your doctor before taking herbal extracts.

It is vital that we begin the process of investigating these and other potential natural solutions to Parkinson’s. We now know that at least these four, and possibly many others, help protect the brain’s ability to produce dopamine in the face of damage from toxins.

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de Rus Jacquet A, Timmers M, Ma SY, Thieme A, McCabe GP, Vest JH, Lila MA, Rochet JC. Lumbee traditional medicine: Neuroprotective activities of medicinal plants used to treat Parkinson’s disease-related symptoms. J Ethnopharmacol. 2017 Feb 15. pii: S0378-8741(16)30670-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2017.02.021.

de Rus Jacquet A, Tambe MA, Ma SY, McCabe GP, Vest JH, Rochet JC.Pikuni-Blackfeet traditional medicine: Neuroprotective activities of medicinal plants used to treat Parkinson’s disease-related symptoms. J Ethnopharmacol. 2017 Jan 11. pii: S0378-8741(16)30673-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2017.01.001.


  • Case Adams, Naturopath

    California Naturopath, Ph.D. in Natural Health Sciences, Doctorate in Integrative Health Sciences, Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner. Diplomas in Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling, Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Colon Hydrotherapy, certificates in Pain Management and Case Management/Contact Tracing. Has authored more than 30 books and hundreds of periodical articles on natural medicine. Recreational activities include surfing, sailing, running, biking, swimming, SUPing, hiking. Contact: case(at)caseadams(dot)com.

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